Random Card Musings #3 - A Voyage to the National

by Drew Pelto, BBM Staff Writer

About every four years is an event that is huge in my sports collecting life.

The Summer Olympics? Nah, never been a big basketball guy.

Winter Olympics? Now that the pros are out of hockey I don’t have much interest there either. Until ski jumpers have a major hobby following, my Finns stand little chance. I’d buy a Matti Nykänen autograph, though (if John Daly were a ski jumper, he would be Nykänen).

World Cup? Getting closer, but no. I love watching it, but my collecting interests in the sport lie with the 1980s and 1990s indoor leagues.

That event is the National Sports Collectors Convention. It takes place every July or August, but roughly every four years it returns to my home of Cleveland, Ohio, giving me a perfect excuse to plan a trip up to go to it. I can combine a few things with it—visiting friends and family, hitting up some baseball games, and stocking up on some Cleveland-area-only foods (Stadium mustard, Malley’s hot fudge, and Dan Dee Corn Twistees, anyone?). 2018 is its 39th year: not bad for something that started out as just a bunch of collectors at the Los Angeles Airport Marriott in 1980.

The National, a card collectors dream!
 This will be seventh National-- as it is simply called in hobby parlance-- to be held at Cleveland’s I-X Center, and the fifth one I’ve attended.  It starts up on Wednesday, August 1 with a VIP reception and sneak preview night, including several autograph guests—Basketball Hall of Famer Calvin Murphy, All-Star pitcher Luis Tiant, and two-time AL Champion manager Mike Hargrove.

The big names of the hobby all have a huge presence here: Panini and Upper Deck host parties for their biggest spenders. Beckett, SGC, and PSA do on-site grading. Topps sponsors the opening night VIP reception. The biggest dealers have booths. TriStar runs all the autograph signings, and there’s even an area for people to do live case breaks.

The show itself will be big of course, and I'm going to get a lot of items signed from the various VIP autograph guests. But even bigger for me is everything else surrounding it.

On the way up, during the show, and on the way back, my friend Arron and I are going to be hitting somewhere between 12 and 15 baseball games to try to get autographs. MLB, International, Pacific Coast, Eastern, Southern, Midwest, and South Atlantic League: counting our ventures out to Frisco of the Texas League we will have covered every league except the Class A Advanced California, Carolina, and Florida State Leagues in the months of July and August.

The preparation for a trip like this actually goes back a few years. After my return from an amazing trip to the 2014 National, I told Arron to mark it on his calendar, that we need to go to the show again in 2018. Last year he floated the idea of driving it and hitting a bunch of minor league games along the way. And with that, I started getting a map together with every feasible driving route from DFW to Cleveland. Once schedules started going public, we narrowed it down to what teams were playing at home during our drive times, which of those had the best options for players to get autographs from and best setups to make it easy, and set our plan in stone. It looks like this...

Friday 7/27 - Tennessee Smokies (Cubs AA) at Birmingham Barons (White Sox AA)
Saturday 7/28 - Rome Braves (Braves Low-A) at Lexington Legends (Royals Low-A)
Sunday 7/29 - Asheville Tourists (Rockies Low-A) at West Virginia Power (Pirates Low-A)
Monday 7/30 - Indianapolis Indians (Pirates AAA) at Columbus Clippers (Indians AAA)
Tuesday 7/31 - DOUBLE TIME! Great Lakes Loons (Dodgers Low-A) at Lake County Captains (Indians Low-A), and Louisville Bats (Reds AAA) at Toledo Mud Hens (Tigers AAA)
Wednesday 8/1 - Rest day, finally!
Thursday 8/2 - Bowie Baysox (Orioles AA) at Akron Rubber Ducks (Indians AA)
Friday 8/3 - Bowling Green Hot Rods (Rays Low-A) at Lake County Captains (Indians Low-A)
Saturday 8/4 - Angels at Indians
Sunday 8/5 - Lansing Lugnuts (Blue Jays Low-A) at Fort Wayne Tincaps (Padres Low-A)
Monday 8/6 - DOUBLE TIME! Beloit Snappers (A's Low-A) at Cedar Rapids Kernels (Twins Low-A), and Las Vegas 51s (Mets AAA) at Iowa Cubs (Cubs AAA)
Tuesday 8/7 - DOUBLE TIME? Las Vegas 51s (Mets AAA) at Iowa Cubs (Cubs AAA), and Royals at Cubs

Just trying to visit all of these games is enough of an undertaking. Getting autographs at them is even tougher.  Minor league rosters are constantly in flux. Players are being called up, sent down, traded, released, signed, and moved every day. So when you're trying to pin down a team's roster and buy cards to get signed a few months out, it involves a lot of hoping and guessing.  Take for example the Cedar Rapids Kernels. They had a big prospect named Royce Lewis who had been there all season, but was putting up some nice numbers. I ordered my first batch of cards in early July... and two weeks later he was moved up to the Fort Myers Miracle, rendering my cards of him temporarily useless. And forget about him being sent back: in eight games, he's hitting .313 including a 3-run homer in a 11-6 win over Lakeland on Friday. Additionally the trading deadline passes while we're there, so we'll probably get affected by a flurry of activity with that-- yet another example, this time one that helps us, Yusniel Diaz moves from Tulsa (whom we saw in Frisco) over to Bowie, so I can get my last card of him signed fairly easily in Akron.

And in the middle of it all, we'll be getting cards and photos signed at the National, and hopefully hunting for good deals and project needs. At the 2014 show I picked up 27 signed cards for projects I'm working on, and I'm thinking I should get even more this time around. Right now without the games factored in, I'm all but guaranteed 30 autographs, including five for projects. My goal is 300 for the trip, not including purchases.

Depending on how much time and phone storage I have, I'll try to do a video on the whole trip here on BBM as well once all is complete. At the very least, I'll be posting near-nightly recaps on my personal autograph blog, The Texas Graphing Chronicles.

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